Belly Goat Burgers owners open a Mexican cantina in the Octagon, Chicago-inspired food truck Funk’s Franks says goodbye, and a few summer pleasures to enjoy before the season’s gone.
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Happy Friday! I know this is a little awkward to bring up in the middle of July, but summer will be over before we know it. In a few short weeks, we will transition into autumn, at least mentally if not physically — though it doesn’t look like this warm weather is going anywhere.
Before our eyes turn toward the second half of the year, be sure to enjoy a few summer delights — homemade agua de jamaica and a plate of fried calamari at Aldo’s are two of my preferred warm-weather pleasures. Visit the farmers markets in all their summer glory and help Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets celebrate 46 years this Saturday — yes, there will be cake.
And a new restaurant opened this week in the Octagon building next to Abbott Square in downtown Santa Cruz. At Vamonos Comida Mexicana, Greg and Maria Crema, the owners of Belly Goat Burgers, have teamed up again with chef Anthony Kresge and also with chef Eduardo Valentin to create a menu that offers a mix of traditional and contemporary Mexican fare.
In May, I wrote about how impressed I was with the upscale, Chicago-inspired offerings at local food truck Funk’s Franks. Sadly, Charlie Funk announced Tuesday after a monthlong hiatus and a bit of soul searching that he’s decided to call it quits and move out of the area. Funk shared that after 15 years of working in the restaurant industry, he’s ready to move on to something else and will not be returning to his food truck. While I wish him well on a personal level, I’m devastated that we’ve lost his Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef dips and homemade cheesecake. If you’d like to wish Charlie well and snag one of his classic “Funk me? More like Funk you!” T-shirts, visit him at Apéro Club in Santa Cruz on Monday starting at 6 p.m.
Here’s a great deal I have to share — visit Mentone in Aptos Village on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and they’ll give you a free margherita pizza when you order a bottle of wine off the wine list. What a fun take on happy hour! Mentone’s traditional Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas, made by certified pizzaiolo Francesco Ramunno, are to die for. See you there!
Congratulations to Discretion Brewing on winning two medals at the 2022 U.S. Open Beer Championship. Its Uncle Dave’s IPA won a gold medal in the English IPA category, and the Shimmer Pils took home a silver medal in the German lager/pilsner category. These are two of Discretion’s flagship beers and are beloved throughout Santa Cruz County and beyond — including by me. There’s never a wrong time for a Shimmer Pils, in my opinion. Find them at the brewery in Soquel and at many of your favorite bars and restaurants throughout the county.
Good news for downtown Santa Cruz eaters, as the Octagon welcomes Vamonos Comida. It opened this week in the space that, until six months ago, held Roux Dat, sharing the venue with sushi restaurant Daisuki Octagon. Maria and Greg Crema, who also own Belly Goat Burgers in Abbott Square Market, offer a fun take on taqueria food. The Cremas teamed up with chef Anthony Kresge — who also helped create the menu at Belly Goat and has his own restaurant, Reef Dog Deli, in Capitola Village — and with chef Eduardo Valentin. Together, they created a menu that includes a mix of Mexican classics and more contemporary fare. The soft opening menu offers a trio of street tacos ($8.25), summer corn with lime crema butter, cotija and cilantro ($3.75), a quesadilla ($5.25) and three chef’s signature tacos. I chose two chef’s tacos — the pollo frito and the barbacoa ($6.25 each). Each hefty and colorful chef’s taco could be a hearty snack or a light meal on its own. The fried chicken was layered between creamy black beans, and bright, tangy slaw and its masa cornmeal batter gave it a delightful crunch. The rich barbacoa practically melted into the sweet potato and refried black beans, while a zippy mix of jalapeños, cabbage and pickled onions lifted up the heavy flavors.
The Cremas told me that Kresge will add more vegetarian choices to the menu in the next couple of weeks, including a chile relleno, while Valentin plans to add more traditional taqueria dishes like nachos and pork tacos. Visit Vamonos Comida inside the Octagon at Abbott Square in downtown Santa Cruz from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Before summer fades away, be sure to take a long lunch at Aldo’s in the Santa Cruz Harbor. When it comes to atmosphere, to me, it doesn’t get much better. Five years ago, the original waterfront restaurant that crowned the Santa Cruz Harbor seawall for almost 60 years was torn down and Aldo’s moved to a temporary location up the harbor. This location is now its permanent home, and it’s still one of my favorite local restaurants with a view. All of its seating is outdoors, which provides a perfect vantage point to watch the comings and goings of boats, people and sea life. I love gazing at the luxury sailboats and pleasure craft with names ranging from exotic to sentimental to silly while enjoying a plate of fried calamari. If you go, you must order the calamari. Aldo’s version is as classic as it comes — a mix of tentacles and tubes served with tartar and cocktail sauces and decorated with a lemon wedge. It’s not fancy, but it’s perfect, and I never leave without feeling like I’m lucky to live in Santa Cruz.
On these hot days, I’ve been chugging liters of homemade agua de jamaica, one of my favorite summer drinks. I thought everyone knew about this dark ruby beverage, but most of the friends I mentioned it to gave me quizzical looks. If you’re unfamiliar, it has nothing to do with the country of Jamaica. It’s pronounced “hah-my-ka,” and if you’ve ever been in a taqueria, you’ve seen it — it’s the deep pink juice percolating next to the horchata. “Jamaica” is Spanish for hibiscus, and agua de jamaica is hibiscus iced tea. The blossoms are naturally quite tart, so sugar is often added to make it more palatable. The result is a tangy, rich, floral tea I find completely addictive.
And it’s incredibly easy to make at home. Here’s how I do it: Steep a half cup of blossoms and a quarter-cup of sugar in a liter of boiling water. I make mine in a French press coffeemaker so I can easily remove the blossoms later by pressing them down as I would coffee grounds. Let it sit for about an hour, then move it to the fridge. Remove the blossoms and pour it over ice. I enjoy mine much less sweet than the version in the taqueria, so add more sugar if you wish. Dried hibiscus blossoms are easy to find at any Mexican market and are usually inexpensive. I got about half a pound of jamaica at Del Pueblo Market at 2118 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz for about $2. Try it, and let me know what you think!
Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets, which operates the Aptos farmers market on Saturdays as well as several markets in Monterey County, is turning 46! This Saturday, you’re invited to celebrate at the market at Cabrillo College. In addition to more than 100 vendors and farmers, visitors can receive a free eco-friendly mesh produce bag while supplies last, enjoy a complimentary slice of birthday cake and face painting by Brenda from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for kiddos. More info at montereybayfarmers.org.
Now this sounds like a lovely way to spend a summer evening, and a great idea for a date: On Saturday, Aug. 6, Everett Family Farm will host a flower-picking walk at its Soquel property. In addition to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the Everett family and their team grow acres of flowers. Learn about the different varieties and harvest your bucket of fresh blooms to take home. The walk is from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and costs $50 per person. For more information, email email@example.com.